August 27th, 2010 by admin
A Charlestown “Welcome Center” full of free maps, smiling staff waiting to answer questions, and brochures to area attractions will be greeting tourists stepping from the city parking garage on Ann Street.
Mission of the center is not the same as that of official Charlestown visitor center just across the street. In the recent years, at least 8 privately-run visitor information centers have come up around the Holy City to provide information and vouchers in return for a sales pitch for vacation clubs and time shares.
Those involved in the industry say these operations provide a valuable service to visitors. They bring thousands of tourists to Charleston each year for presentations and steer thousands more to local tour operators, restaurants and other businesses that directly profit as a result, supporters said.
Critics, including the Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, fear that this marketing scheme confuses visitors, subjects them to aggressive sales tactics and steers them only toward attractions that honor industry coupons.
Helen Hill, executive director of the visitors bureau, said she has fielded several complaints over the years from upset folks who mistakenly thought her nonprofit organization was hawking time shares to them.
“The key is that they be as upfront as possible about what they are trying to do,” she said. “We don’t want visitors to leave with a bad experience or a bad taste in their mouth about Charleston.
David Compton, owner of Old South Carriage Co., remarked that Vacation Station Vouchers has been helping his business get dozens of customers each week.